Big Finish Productions
Gallifrey: Square One
|Written by||Stephen Cole|
|Starring Lalla Ward, Louise Jameson and John Leeson|
|Also featuring Miles Richardson, Sean Carlsen, Jane Goddard Lucy Campbell, Daniel Hogarth, Daniel Barzotti|
|Synopsis: In a climate of unease and mistrust, the great time-travelling powers of the universe are holding an historic temporal summit. The meeting will take place on a planetoid impervious to outside attack or internal subversion in any way. But while President Romana walks a knife-sharp political tightrope into dangerous territory, Leela and K9 find themselves attending the summit in unexpected roles. They are hunting for evidence of Free Time activity, but find instead terrors of a different kind time and time again.|
More please... by Joe Ford 13/6/04
Stephen Cole is proving to be one of the better Doctor Who writers of recent years, after a dodgy start in both the BBC books and Big Finish (Land of the Dead, The Ancestor Cell) he has embraced his poor reputation and subverted those opinions. Ten Little Aliens, Timeless, The Plague Herds of Excelis and The Wormery were all quality stories and Square One continues his positive run.
This is more of the same with the Gallifrey series, exploring the potential that was set up in Weapon of Choice. Here we have a very similar situation, the great time powers of the universe gathering together, this time in a historical temporal summit. Leela is on hand to explore the violence of the situation, to try and make some meaning of the politics in her simple, savage brain. Romana is ever present, weary but in control and full of intelligent plans to keep her planet, well no, all planets safe.
The real difference is how the story is constructed. Whereas Weapon of Choice had the unenviable task of introducing the major players and therefore negating any chance of a genuinely involving, layered (although it had a bloody good attempt) Square One can start to play about with the pieces. For a series about time travel it would be foolish of the writers to not express that concept in the easiest way on audio, through a time shifting plot and Stephen cleverly designs a story that is told backwards, not deliberately like Creatures of Beauty, but because of the machinations of one of the characters involved. Science fiction can be a lot of fun when the ideas are used creatively and Square One has Leela the only person aware of the time shifts and the only one not capable of understanding them. It gives Cole the chance to exploit the temporal jiggery pokery without forcing answers until the end.
There are moments in this story that approach the atmosphere of the Cantina scenes in Star Wars, lots of alien races with silly voices, futuristic music, political wrangling and moments of realism (swearing and sexual innuendo). It works a treat and helps to involve the listener; you can easily imagine the look of planetoid if you have ever seen the first three Star Wars films (is there anyone who hasn't?).
As ever with Cole there is an abundance of humour and the Gallifrey series reminds me more of the Benny series than the Doctor Who one with its playful mix of the deeply serious and the amusingly facetious. Much of the humour is derived from Leela and her observations, this time she is sent in undercover as an exotic dancer to slimy Time Lord Narvin and has to fend of the lusty appetites of the Nekkistani representative Flinkstab (or "Fat Neck" as she calls him). As you can imagine she is not satisfied with either role and rarely hides her feelings and much laughter ensues. It is important that this series keeps up this sense of fun; it is worlds apart from arse achingly dull Gallifrey tales in the series.
As figure heads for the series Louise Jameson and Lalla Ward are spot on as Leela and Romana. Jameson retains Leela's sense of innocence and education but still portrays her as capable and emotional. Ward has a frightening amount of authority and imbues the series with a sense of scale and importance. When she gives a speech about averting genocide you bloody well listen or else! The last scene of the play shows them growing into a relationship of trust and understanding, it was my favourite of the play because both characters are so perfectly written, so different but seen finding common ground. I am already petitioning for Gallifrey season two.
This is another Cole master-plot with red herrings, misdirection (hmm, isn't that the same thing?), deceptive characters, major twists and sound motives for everybody involved. The last ten minutes are quite shocking, turning everything you thought about the story on its head. And pleasingly the story pushes forwards the series too, events here leading directly into The Inquiry and mentions of the drama in Weapon of Choice giving the feeling of running storyline.
Even the production has improved, Russell directs with a harsher touch, the confrontations seem more dramatic, the twists more important. David Darlington revs up the music, a far cry from his pitiful performance in Weapon of Choice and certain moments, especially the climax and an attempted assassination crackle with importance. A shame Miles Richardson's Braxiatel is relegated to the sidelines but there is an important reason for this so this isn't a complaint.
Excellent follow up, Justin Richards will have to deliver something truly special to smash this...
A Review by Rob Matthews 5/8/04
Darn that Joe Ford!
Ha ha, no offence Joe. But you see, once my delightful cohort in the cult of Colin and sparring partner in the Romana 1 dispute has enthused over something good and proper, the way he's enthused over this Gallifrey series, even the most glowing praise from the next reviewer in line is doomed to have an effect akin more to a bucket of cold water than a burst of fireworks. I thought I was fairly complimentary about chapter one, Weapon of Choice, for example, but after Joe had so joyously sung its praises on this site my own review came across more like some embittered heckler staggering into his chapel of worship with a whisky bottle clutched in one hand and a battered copy of The Book of the War in the other; I raved on about Larry Miles and Lalla Ward, vomited, and left.
Nevertheless, I shall press on with the remainder of the series, clutching fondly and rather proudly onto the knowledge that Joe is just as complimentary about my own infrequent yet voluminous things rantings on things Who, and asking the reader to excuse my comparative cynicism. I am twenty-six after all - King Lear's got nowt on me...
Well, I'm not even going to attempt to eclipse Mr Ford's praises in this here review of Square One. But I do think it's a good 'un, nicely picking up the pace after the - in retrospect - somewhat slack opening episode. Some of my basic reservations in the plot department remain, of course (dammit, I just can't remove this old stick from the mud) - because I do genuinely feel that post-Faction Paradox, any Who-ish treatment of temporal intrigue that fails to completely twist your mind inside out is bound to feel a bit quaint. But, really, what the hell's wrong with quaint! I spend my idle hours watching the Thin Man movies and reading Edmund Crispin novels, for goodness' sake. Not to mention old episodes of some cheesy science fictiony series they used to broadcast Saturday teatimes. Nostalgia ain't what it used to be, ever since it got Maconified, but why should I be so resistant to a bit of old-fashioned storytelling? Does everything have to edgy! In any case, I'm being a mite unfair; Square One does present us with a fair few noodle-scratching moments and plenty of satisfying twists. My mam - who got back into Doctor Who along with me after stacking them up for me off UK Gold - listens to some of the Big Finish adventures (she loves Colin Baker too!), but this is one of those stories I don't think I'd bother taking home for her to give a go - too convoluted for the casual fan, I'd think. And that's a good, objective indicator that it's not as ploddingly simplistic as I probably appear to be making out.
I mentioned in reviewing part one that this series seems to feature more of a Graham Williams Gallifrey than a Holmes, Platt or Miles one. But for episode two the atmosphere has progressed to become decidedly, well, eighties-ish. Probably a result of having Jane Goddard in it. Despite talk of the Free Time movement, the scenario here - a conference of temporal superpowers (including the Warpmongers of Flapdoodle and the Nivean Visage) - has more a feel of cold war-style unease than anything resembling the peachy sitution we find ourselves in the 21st century. After the half-arsed attempts to say something about the UK's current immigration brouhaha in Weapon of Choice, it's almost as if the writers of this series have decided, oh sod it, we'll just forget about touching on present day themes, wrap ourselves up in (silver foil effect) comfort blankets and do the story we'd have come up with for a post-watershed spin-off series in 1985. Andrew Wixon has mentioned a Blake's 7 similiarity, and I'll take his word on that.
It remains the case, though, that this reassembled cast of top-grade companions from seventies Who brings the whole thing alive and ably deflects any whiff of cheese or redundancy. Romana, Leela and K9 are as fab now as they always were, and here Lalla and Louise get more satifyingly defined roles to play than they did in the opening chapter.
Leela's role, perhaps, being a bit too, er, satisfying; here she has to go undercover as... oh dear... an exotic dancer. One wonders if Steve Cole resurrected this idea from the pages of a sticky journal of fanfic written when he was fourteen, it has very much the ring of adolescent wish-fulfilment. One wonders, come to that, exactly how old Leela is meant to be in this story. And of course, one wonders why one keeps referring to oneself as one - perhaps because one is unspeakably pretentious. Whatever, the story just about gets away with it. Bizarrely enough, it manages this by giving its streak of lechery free rein - somehow this stuff always feels more acceptable out in the open than snuck in in the form of suspiciously heavy-breathed, hair-palmed asides about tits and ass.
As with Weapon of Choice, we're faced with some very familiar dramatic 'types' - if not outright stereotypes, come to think of it; there we had the archetypal charismatic rogue in a Robert Holmes vein, a Timelord in the usual 'callous snobby little twerp' vein and a shrill political fanatic. Here I was reminded of Mike Morris' comment about the use of northern accents and their attendant cliches in Spare Parts. This time round Leela's 'exotic' dancing cohorts have interstellar mockney accents to signify their brassy whoredom, sounding for all the world like they're about to stagger around a foggy corner giggling "Ooh, 'oo's a big boy? Fancy a bit of business ducky? 'Ere, what's that knoife for? Waaah!" before being dismembered by Jack the Ripper.
Speaking of members, I'm starting to notice a pronounced Terrance Dicksian randy side to Steve Cole's contributions to Who. But unlike in The Ancestor Cell he just manages to keep it in check here, and it's disciplined thematically - there's a suggestion that because great power breeds great responsibility, the harder the work the harder the play (ah, echoes of Clinton, now I think of it - resonances with the nineties zeitgeist at least), so while the tone of the episode itself feels more than a little lascivious - Flinkstabb of Nekkistan acting as a lightning rod for such criticism by being an overtly caricatured leering perv -, it compensates by being wise and urbane about it too. Businessmen do go to lapdancing clubs, after all. President do get fellated by interns. Still, I can't help but notice that following Timeless this is the second story Stephen Cole's come up with in the past few months to feature the idea of a woman dying during rough sex. I'm not going to say that's inappropriate for Doctor Who, because both stories have been ones that worked well. But, Steve, I think I'd be concerned if it happened a third time.
Romana's role is less sensational than Leela's, but as mentioned she gets some fun stuff to do - sells the fear angle particularly well when she's cornered by the servitor too.
Jane Goddard as Hossak is, I feel, just a little miscast. This isn't due to any particular flaw in her performance, instead it's something that arises purely from this being an audio play rather than a visual product - the thing is, she actually sounds a lot like Lalla Ward putting on an exaggeratedly prim voice! So much so that during her first appearance I was sent scrambling for the CD liner notes to see if Big Finish had contrived to save cash by getting lovely Lalla to play two roles. Still, that's a minor problem really.
What with spoilers and all, there's not a lot to actually be said about the plot of the thing. I will say that with a story of this sort it's difficult to come up with any very surprising twists, because we are of course expecting the unexpected, we know it's always the one you least suspect and so forth, and so no possible permutation of events can truly floor us. Nevertheless, this did manage to get a few by me. It's also better structured than episode one, and now we've been introduced (or have we!) to all the main players in the Gallifrey series, references to 'the Free Time movement', 'the Timonic Fusion Device' don't sound so clunky anymore (thanks to the same process of acclimatisation that caused Star Wars fans to get used to saying 'The Phantom Menace', and that now allows the people of Sunderland to refer to 'The Stadium of Light' without cringeing embarrassment).
So in conclusion - hmm, when it comes to singing praises, Joe Ford is the Harry Secombe of the Ratings Guide (what's that? a message from Joe in my inbox, you say?). Completing the analogy in tenuous fashion, I shall paint myself as the Spike Milligan; well, I'm a manic depressive old sod at any rate. And my more agnostic view of Square One, for what it's worth, is that while by no means unmissable, it's an entertaining, satisfying piece of drama you won't regret buying.
A Review by Jamas Enright 10/4/05
After Weapon of Choice is Square One. I'm not sure if this was always intended as the second audio, but in my opinion this would have made a far stronger opener to the series as a whole. Not only is the story fairly independent of the rest of the series, but also the tie-ins to the other stories feel really last-minute and very tacked on.
Square One itself is about a conference of time-using races, and I have to ask where did they all come from? Big Finish seem to think that the Time Lords are just one of a large number of races (admittedly still the most powerful) with time controlling abilities, which comes out of nowhere when one considers the television series. That quibble aside, this story is really good, it is set up well, and holds the listener's interest well, and when events take a back-step the listener is just as confused as Leela and just all the more interested. (Which proves that Stephen Cole should be writing audios, just not Doctor Who audios.)
This story reminded me a lot of another Doctor Who audio (although I'm not going to say which one), but there get to be different twists and turns in this one. A lot of the strange events that happen get actual sensible explanations, but I'm not entirely positive that events could go without someone noticing. Stephen Cole seems to be taking a few liberties with the time scale of events, but otherwise works events in a consistent manner.
Staying in character from their previous audio appearance are Romana, Leela, K9, Braxiatel and Narvin. (That Torvald isn't in this audio just strengthens my theory that this audio is separate from the rest of the series and should have been first.) Not much happens in the way of character development, although the relationship between Romana and Leela is shown to have some real strength to it (that said, their final scene together has to contain some of the stupidest dialogue I've ever heard). Narvin has a few decent moments, which is odd (but nice) as he is generally portrayed as a bad guy. Shows that not everyone is black and white (which is good to see). The actors are well into their roles, and there's nothing more that could be said except that it's business as usual and business is good.
Joining them in this adventure is the distinctive voice of Jane Goddard as Liaison Officer Hossak, who comes across as wonderfully sharp-tongued. And extremely quick-of-mouth considering how fast some of her speeches are delivered. Lucy Campbell is dancer Baano, and she plays her with an appropriate level of world-weariness. Daniel Hogarth, Daniel Barzotti and Joseph Lidster (yes, the writer) fill in as alien voices who have names that look like random collections of letters.
If the rest of the series had been like this, that would have been fine with me, but the ending suddenly drags us back into the arc, and leads on to the next story...